Happy Friday

I’m sitting here at my “desk” (a large, comfy chair with an ottoman that holds my books, journal, phone and other random stuff) looking out the window of my back yard. The sun is shining, worship music is playing as I write, a woodpecker is checking out a tree and the bird feeder hanging there, and the woods behind my house are begging me to come outside to see if the cows I sometimes here mooing in the distance will greet me this morning.

At times like this I feel like I’m in the eye of a storm. Life is swirling around me, yet something about sitting here at my desk and admiring the world around me brings peace.

My life is just like yours. It’s busy and full. Weighty concerns about my family and friends pull at my heart. Normal life lures me to set aside my morning quiet time to get started on laundry or scrubbing or watering my plants.

But here I sit.

This morning I’m aware of the amount of God’s grace that is required to sustain me. To give me wisdom to deal with the worries that rush into my heart and mind when I’m not occupied with other things. To comfort me when sadness about the “woulda”, “coulda”, “shoulda’s” of my life tempt me to put more weight on human choices and decisions than on God’s power to “work all things together for good.” To correct my thinking when I’m believing lies rather than truths. To lighten my heart and make me smile over tomatoes inching closer to ripeness when much more important things are looming in my life.

I think I’m going to stop now and take a walk with my dog. I have lots on my plate today — including welcoming four little people to spend some time with Granma and making dinner for dear friends coming tonight. But God is trying to teach me something about looking for peace in the midst of the hectic life most of us live these days. I’m going to leave my phone at home and take some bread to attract turtles in the lake near my house.

Is there something you can do today to find peace in your full life? Take a walk; sit outside for lunch; take a nap; cuddle up for even a short read of the book you’ve been trying to get to; or just sit and rehearse how blessed you are, even though hard or confusing things are happening in your life.

Happy Friday.

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Really Good News

The following is an adaptation of a message preached by Benny Phillips called “Hope for the Bruised and Exhausted”, preached from Isaiah 42:1-4. It was first printed on the Redeemer Church of Lake Nona blog. 

In the lands around Palestine reeds grow in abundance, particularly along the edges of the Jordan River. They have fragile, hollow stems and are easily knocked over by the wind, rough waters or animals that come to the water’s edge to drink. Once a reed is broken, it can’t be fixed. Whereas other plants may repair themselves, reeds cannot.

099Like reeds, people can become bruised, hurt, knocked over, easily. We can be knocked over by life, broken relationships, disease and sickness, by the thoughtlessness and carelessness of other people. There are many people that are bruised, broken, and hurting, all around us, living next door, shopping where we shop, playing where we play.

Jesus came to have an impact, not on reeds but on people. He did not come to break a person who was already bruised or knock down a person who was already bent low with the difficulties of life. Unlike a reed, which cannot be fixed, Jesusis able to bind up our broken lives. He gives us new strength, and applies healing salve to our damaged lives. He came softly and gently to mend the broken reeds of the world.

Jesus did this throughout his ministry. The leper of Matthew chapter 8 was a bruised reed. He was diseased, cast off by society, shunned by everyone, destined to a slow and terrible death. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The demon-possessed man in that same chapter of Matthew 8 was also a bruised reed. He was living among the tombstones, naked, tormented, cast out by society. But Jesus came and touched him and his life was forever changed!

The woman caught in adultery was a bruised reed. She was about to be cast away by society, stoned for her sin, and they would have been justified in their stoning according to the laws of their day. But Jesus came and touched her and her life was forever changed!

The woman with the flow of blood was a bruised reed. She was in pain, weak, weary, an outcast from society. She thought she would touch Jesus, but instead, Jesus touched her in a way that she never dared hope. Like the others, her was forever changed!

I have been a bruised reed, angry and bitter, hurting and depressed until Jesus came and touched me and my life has been forever changed. Jesus is the answer for the bruised reeds in our world. He is the answer for those who are bruised, broken, hurting, cast aside by society.

Jesus changes lives. Has he healed you?

The Armadillo in my Heart

We’ve lived in Florida for nearly 13 years but are having our first battle with an armadillo. Our new home doesn’t yet have a fence and the area behind our house is wooded. I love everything about that…except for the pesky armadillo that raids our yard at night to dig for bugs. We’re using coyote urine because it’s a predator (how in the world do they get enough urine to make the stuff you put down on your yard?!?!), bug killer to get rid of the little guys they’re feeding on and are leaving our outside light on to dissuade our nocturnal pest from coming into the yard and leaving holes for us to discover in the morning. We’ve even allowed our lab to run outside and chase him away when Wallace sees him out there.

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

We thought he had moved on to a more buggy yard. But, alas, he was back last night.

Do you ever feel like something ugly is sneaking up on you? I do.

Like my temptation to be fearful about the potential negative consequences of a child’s unwise choices. (By the way, my kids are all young adults.) For awhile it seems my anxieties are under control and I’m able to trust God with them. But then something comes up and I realize that pesky fear is back.

Or then there’s the craving for approval from others that tempts me to value or devalue myself by what they think of me rather than what God does.

And, oh yeah, the envy that seeps out of my heart when others are treated in ways I wish I was.

The list goes on.

Recently I’ve been thinking what “predator” needs to be sprinkled on my heart to keep anxiety, craving for the approval of others and envy away. For me, I think it’s increasing gratitude and love for God. When I’m marinading in His lavish kindness, generosity, compassion and care for me — most beautifully demonstrated when He stretched out His hands and died for me on the cross — the temptations stalking me slither back into the woods where they belong.

Thinking about this over the past few days has lightened my heart and lifted my eyes upward. I’m more aware of the many things for which I am grateful and less focused on the temptations that have been tiptoeing into my heart to feed on self-pity, ungratefulness and jealousy.

Benny said something yesterday that is rolling around in my mind this morning: if we starve something it dies. Starving my temptations and sin is one way I can watch them shrivel up. We’re attempting to make our yard an unfruitful place for the armadillo. I’m trying to make my heart less of a feast for temptation and sin.

I’m praying for success for both.

The Joy of Same

I’ve been in my new home for nearly 6 weeks. Thinking back, it wasn’t that long ago that the thought of moving produced the kind of angst in my heart that kept me awake at night. Then all the work of packing, sorting, discarding, cleaning and packing more hit and I was exhausted. (My daughter was also packing to move so we were both doing double duty helping each other.)

Then the move came and all the work started again.

Six weeks later pictures of my once-toddlers are on the walls. Flowers and herbs have been planted. Bird feeders hang on trees in the back yard where woodpeckers, cardinals and blue jays visit. My furniture and curtains make the house feel like home. And, oh yeah, the ceiling fan is the first thing I see each morning.

I’m starting to feel like I’m home again.

Why don’t I like change much anymore? When I was younger I loved rearranging the furniture on a regular basis and replacing the kids comforters. Now I enjoy “same.” My dining room table stays covered with cloths because I can’t bare to sand paint and markers away from Julia’s artistic creations. My nearly 25-year-old living room furniture needs its third fabric makeover but something in me wants to savor the faded print just a little longer (and remember when the brand new 80’s dusty pink and blue colors were hip). And, yeah, my ceiling fan is the first thing I see each morning.

Stuff is really just stuff. But sometimes stuff like furniture or ceiling fans remind us that with age comes a level of contentment that surprises me sometimes. I used to love going to my grandmother’s home because I could walk into the living room, sit on the chair and put my arm on the crocheted arm rest protectors that probably hadn’t been washed since I had been there last. In an adolescent world where boyfriends and “cool” and emotions consistently fluctuated, going to Nannie’s reminded me that some things don’t change.

During the unpacking in my new kitchen there was one cabinet that I immediately chose for something special: the snacks. Since the kids were young, the snack cabinet has been to the right of the microwave. From house to house, they always knew where to look for chips, Oreos or M&M’s. One time I tried to put snacks in a different cabinet. I was quickly told it just wasn’t gonna work. When my youngest son came home from law school the first time after we moved to our new home, I watched him go into the kitchen to find junk food. He knew exactly where to go.

If you’re young, keep enjoying change. But if you’re getting up there like me, perhaps you, too, find comfort in sameness.

Perhaps God is getting me ready for eternity with Him — where I’ll never move again and it will always be home.

40 Years

Today I’m thinking about over four decades with a blonde I met in high school.  Sometimes bloggers think people really want to hear about their personal life, but don’t most of us miss the sappy details and just want the writer to get to the point?

Well, the point of this post is that marriage is worth the hard work.

Tonight Benny and I will enjoy a part planned by our kids to celebrate 40 years together. It’s been a long ride. There have been times when I’m sure we both wondered what in the world we got into. When disappointment, selfishness, taking each other for granted or anger resulted in a quiet and painful evening that turned into days of sadness that lingered much longer than it should have. When differences in how we parent or spend money or think time should be used tempted us to elevate personal preferences to the point of thinking the other was unloving for just being different. When love had to be a decision rather than a feeling in order to last through the challenges we faced.

Today I just want to thank God for His goodness and faithfulness. Working hard is tiring. But, Lord, You have poured out strength when we had none. Brought hope when it seemed like things wouldn’t change (and even though some things haven’t, we can now laugh at what used to be so important).

More of our marriage is behind us than is before us. We have more conversations these days hoping we’ll die together instead of one of us being left alone. There will be more hard work ahead — but today I’m sitting here basking in God’s grace and thinking of all the things I still love about my man.

I am blessed. IMG_1966

When Only an Embrace Will Do

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

Have you seen the youtube videos of children greeting their camo-clad father or mother upon their return from oversees military service? I have watched several through tears. Watching little ones jittering as if they need to use the bathroom while waiting for Dad or Mom to come into view, then seeing them rush with outstretched arms to a parent who own arms have longed to hold their beloved child gets me every time.

I imagine that when Dad, for example, was gone for all that time Mom tried hard to offer their child a good explanation.

  • “Daddy is working hard far away to protect and serve our country.”
  • “I know you miss Daddy, sweetie.  He’s doing a really important job and he’ll be home as soon as he can.”
  • “What does Daddy do?  Well, he fixes big tanks and trucks so people can use them to help keep others safe.”
  • “You know Daddy is a pilot, right? Well, right now he’s flying things like food and medicine to people far away who wouldn’t have those things without Daddy.”

I don’t know a single child who would understand why their Daddy or Mommy needed to be the one to do these things. What child would say, “Oh, I get it. Now it makes perfect sense why I won’t see my Dad or Mom for a year.  Thanks!”

Explanations don’t satisfy kids who miss and want their parents when only an embrace will do. A child who misses Mommy or Daddy can’t fathom any reason good enough for not having them tuck them in bed at night month after month or missing their birthday party or not being there on Christmas morning. The only thing they want is to be with Dad or Mom…now.

And that’s what their parents want, too. Seeing the beaming faces of mothers and fathers on those videos clutching their kids, often with tears streaming, fills my own heart with joy.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to my relationship with God. You see, sometimes I think knowledge will help, especially during difficult seasons. There have been numerous times when trials or suffering left me craving an explanation.

  • “If I just knew why this was happening, I’d feel better.”
  • “God, just explain how all this is going to ‘work together for good’ (Romans 8:28) and then I’ll feel better.”
  • “So, Lord, what’s the purpose in this awfulness? Help me understand and it’ll be easier to endure.”

During challenging times it helps me to realize that knowledge isn’t what I need; I need God Himself. The answer to difficulties isn’t explanation but relationship. You see, even knowing the future good that will come “someday” isn’t all that comforting in the midst of sorrow, loneliness or disorienting circumstances. Knowing that “down the road” fruit will come from a dry and painful season doesn’t take today’s sadness and weariness away.

The only thing that makes today’s hardships lighten is the Father’s embrace.

Are you going through a tough time? Do you believe that having God sit down and explain why this is happening and the good things that will come from your pain will really help you? Consider Job. If he knew that his dead children would be “replaced” by future children, would he have said, “Oh, I get it. That makes me feel better.” No. Knowledge just begs new questions, not fresh peace.

When we Christians are hurting and craving explanations for tough times, what we need is to tangibly experience the nearness, comfort and warmth of God’s embrace. Hearts that crave knowledge bow to arms that feel welcomed and loved.

I pray you’ll find the strength to let go of the demand for explanation and knowledge and just run into your Father’s eager arms. You’ve missed Him, not answers.

A Consignment Sale Reminder

Yesterday I went to a consignment sale held in a huge room full of toys, clothes and baby items. The only things that are accepted in this wonderful sale are clean, gently used items in good condition that have all the pieces. It was fun to shop with my daughter, Janelle, who is expecting her first baby — my twelfth grandchild. I found a beautiful high chair to add to my collection for visiting grandchildren for a fraction of the cost of new!

As I picked up each item I was mostly impressed with the condition and prices. But once I found the items I was mainly looking for, I found myself noticing little things that didn’t point to necessarily gentle use.  Toward the end of my shopping time I realized that I was unfairly evaluating some of the items. They were, in fact, used!

When I left I found myself thinking about being “gently used” and “in good condition.” I smiled to myself as I was driving home. I’m grateful that I don’t typically feel like I have to clean myself up to make a good impression on people. Most of the people in my life are more than gracious to overlook the smudges, wrinkles and dings about me. Or to recognize that they, too, are flawed. But sometimes I’ve felt that my good condition just hasn’t been good enough for some. Have you?

As a Christian, it’s wonderful to know that God’s evaluation of me is through the lens of His Son’s perfect obedience. When Jesus Christ died on the cross He absorbed every sin and flaw about me and then granted to me His righteous life. Yes, I still sin. And ask anyone who knows me: I’m flawed!

While I care about what others think and want to live with them in mind (like Jesus did), I am incapable of never hurting or disappointing others. When I do, I want to take responsibility for messing up and ask forgiveness when appropriate. But even in my most flawed state when anger or bitterness or jealousy or lust or selfishness is knocking on the door of my heart and mind — and even when I give in and outright sin — Jesus stands eager to remind me that nothing can separate me from His love and His favor is never withdrawn from me. He loves repentant sinners, before and after we sin. How amazing.

He knows I’m gently used and because of His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave, I’m in good condition. What a thought!

If you, like me, struggle with craving the approval of others and wish people didn’t pick you up and notice your every flaw, consider Jesus. If you belong to Him your flaws and smudges are just reminders that you have the marks of being in a fallen world on your life.

But Jesus already paid the price to buy you for His very own. I would never have been clean enough to earn His love and favor.

Gently or not-so-gently used. In good or bad condition. Broken. Dented. Dirty. Tossed aside we come.

And He buys us anyway.

The Rusty Table

Today is tax day. And I’m thinking of owing people stuff.

Several years ago Benny and I borrowed a folding table from some friends. We really did mean to return it. Our friends asked about it several times and we said, “So sorry! We’ll get it back to you!”

Honestly, at one point when they asked I thought, “You live five minutes away. Can’t you just come by and pick it up?” But I didn’t say it. I just told them we would bring it back.

But we didn’t. We hunted around for it one day and couldn’t find it anywhere. Frankly, we assumed we had returned it and they must have loaned it to someone else. They said we hadn’t returned it…but they stopped asking.

A few years later we were packing to move. We found the table in a storage shed rusty and covered with junk. Our friends had moved out west and we couldn’t give it back. Besides, it was ruined.

I talked to my friend on the phone and apologized. Her words pierced my heart: “Oh, Sheree, it’s fine. When we loaned it to you we knew we may never get it back.” In response to my questions she explained that they had come to realize over the years that allowing people to borrow things required being willing to never get them back. “After repeatedly becoming resentful that borrowed things got lost or were never returned we realized we had two options: to stop loaning things to friends or be willing to let go of our stuff.”

Gulp.

Recently these friends came to mind as I mused over expecting love in return from someone. I had been loving and patient…and I expected those things to be returned to me. When they weren’t, I realized I hadn’t given anything away — but had only loaned my kindness.

Please understand I don’t feel badly for expecting to be loved back. The problem was I expected to be love in the exact way I had shown love. What if they person was being loving to me — just in different ways than I had shown love? Or should I say, loaned love?

Our friends asked for their table back a couple of times. But when we irresponsibly didn’t take it back they chose not to resent us. Rather, they focused on the ways our friendship was a blessing to them. An unreturned table didn’t mean as much to them as not getting frustrated and angry with us. By the time I called them many years later they had actually forgotten about it. What good friends.

Remembering the rusty table has been good for me recently. It’s helped me to realize that loaning love isn’t the way to live. It not only tempts me to withhold more love until what I loaned gets returned, but could also blind me to ways love is being shown to me in ways unlike how I show love. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t insist that love to be returned to me in kind, and chooses not to punish the person with silence or resentment or angry attempts to wrestle “my kind of love” from them when maybe their way of showing love is just different.

Or perhaps they simply can’t find the love I’ve loaned them because they think they already gave it back.

Do you find yourself, like me, loaning love to people? A rusty table is reminding me that love is best given, not loaned.

Bloggers Come in Different Flavors

Agreeing to write 30 blog posts in 30 days was a bit silly of me. After all, I have a husband, 7 children and 11 grandchildren — along with a job and a husband who’s a pastor — to keep me busy.

But writing is good for my heart.

Writing makes me stop and think. Consider what I want people to know and not know about me. And sit down for awhile!

Blogs are as different as the authors who pen them.  Practical; informative; inspiring; personal. All are risky because in today’s world words can be misunderstood and well-meaning writers can be blasted when the “discerning” see the real motives behind words. Blogging puts us other there to be applauded, criticized or indifferently ignored.

Truth be told, anyone who blogs is hoping to be liked. We want more and more people to read what we write. We want to be affirmed, valued, respected…and seen to have something to offer others.

So when I get negative comments on my blog that question why I write what I write I’m tempted to stop. Not because I expect everyone to like everything I say but because deep inside is a desire for approval. I want to be given the benefit of the doubt. I want the person to say, “Hey, I really liked this about what you said but I disagree with…” rather than, “Who do you think you are for saying…?”

Over the past 2 weeks I’ve enjoyed meeting lots of new bloggers who are participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Some of the blogs strongly oppose my values. Others make my eyebrows twist up a little. And a few have made me think about my life in a different way than I have before.

But all are written by risk takers.

So for that, thank you.

When Pain Strikes

Nancy and David had a son named Matt and were joyfully expecting a baby girl.  This was before sonograms were routinely performed so they didn’t know there was a problem until her birth. The doctors were immediately concerned about Hope, and the next day a geneticist told her parents she had the metabolic disorder, Zellweger Syndrome. Imagine their heartache to learn that there were no survivors; no cure; just months of life ahead; no “hope.”

199 days later she died.

Because of the high risk of having another child with Zellwegers, David and Nancy made the very difficult decision to surgically prevent another pregnancy. Nancy started writing her book, Holding On To Hope, to bring comfort and hope to other grieving parents. As I came to page 44 last week, I read these shocking words:

“Evidently the procedure reversed itself , and today as I write, I find myself pregnant.”

Pregnant? Again? She and David hoped beyond hope that this baby, like their son Matt, would be okay. But a series of tests revealed the awful truth that their unborn son also had Zellwegers. They didn’t know Hope was sick until she was born. But from early on they knew their baby boy would have a very short and very hard life.

I finished the book yesterday. It was gripping. Nancy was painfully honest. She talked about unhelpful things people said and did during her years of suffering. She shared her despair; her why, God? questions; her frustrated desire to understand; and the reality that part of the hardness of going through difficulties is having to navigate the reactions and responses of friends and family.

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to hear Nancy speak at a conference here in Orlando on the topic of dealing with grief. I haven’t recently lost anyone close and have never held a dead baby in my arms. But I just wanted to listen to her. To benefit from her words and life. I’ve often heard “more is caught than taught” and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to catch something from a woman who has so beautifully allowed suffering and pain to produce the desire to embrace it without becoming a ball of bitterness and destructive anger.

I’m so glad I went.

Losing a baby isn’t the only way people suffer. We suffer when long held dreams or ambitions we really thought were “right” don’t look like they’ll ever happen. Children we’ve sacrificed our lives for break out hearts us with chronic ingratitude or disrespect. Co-workers gossip so they can get a leg up with the boss. Someone we’ve chosen to love forever betrays us through adultery, pornography or lust. Financial irresponsibility means we may always have to count pennies and have to give up thinking we’ll ever get ahead. Elderly parents need us to change their diapers even though they’ve forgotten who we are. The test results show the tumor got larger.

One man said, “It only takes living long enough for suffering to happen.” Hardships come to every person because we live in a broken, fallen world. Sadly, some Christians believe that real godliness and faith protects us from suffering. If we believe enough, we’ll have all the money and happiness we need because God wants to bless us, not hurt us.

But think about it. Look back on your life and think about the difficulties through which you’ve walked. Aren’t some of your greatest lessons and blessings the result of your deepest pain? That doesn’t mean you would ever want to repeat that horrific season of life and genuine faith doesn’t say, “Bring on more pain and suffering!” But the promise that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) means that the disorienting perplexities of death, illness, rejection and pains of all kinds really do “work together” for good.

Our suffering isn’t meaningless or useless.

I can’t recommend Nancy’s book enough. But I have to warn you: this book is not for anyone who wants to marinade in your pain. Nancy’s solutions, forged in the fires of suffering unlike I’ve ever experienced, are full of both grace and truth. Using the life of Job in the Bible — a man who lost everything — she provides hard fought but life changing help to hurting people.

You can find Holding On To Hope here. And whether or not you ever read it, I trust that God will bring you your own special and personal hope in the midst of your suffering. If for any reason you would like to contact me personally, just leave your email in the comment section and I would be glad to reach out.

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Ten

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